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My license is suspended without an ignition interlock. What’s up?

Virginia has some of the toughest drunk driving laws in the nation, and that includes requiring even first-time DUI offenders to install a Breathalyzer-like device in their cars in order to keep driving. As you may know, even a first-time conviction for DUI in Virginia could get your driver’s license revoked for up to a year.

Since driving is a necessity for many people, it’s possible to get a restricted license allowing you to drive to a work or school — if you get an ignition interlock device.

What is an ignition interlock and how does it work?

When you were pulled over, you were probably asked to blow into a Breathalyzer or one of its competitors, such as Intoxilyzer or Alco-Sensor. An ignition interlock device, or IID, is pretty much the same thing except it’s connected to your car’s ignition switch.

You have to register a blood alcohol content of less than 0.02 percent before the car will start. Then, while you’re driving, the IID will prompt you at random for “rolling retests,” where you have to pull over and blow into the device. If you don’t or if you fail, your car’s lights will flash and the horn will blow to alert passing officers.

Do I have to pay to have an ignition interlock installed?

Unfortunately, yes. It may be the only way to keep driving after a DUI conviction, but it’s not cheap. First, within 30 days of your conviction, you have to get the IID installed. Installation costs vary, but expect to pay about $100 for each one.

You’re also required to maintain the device, which means paying for the monitoring service and also to have it calibrated every 30 days. Again, cost estimates vary but you can expect to pay between $50 and $100 per month.

You’ll also be ordered by the court not to drive any vehicle without an IID installed and not to tamper with the device. If the court determines you’re out of compliance with the program, your license could be revoked.

An ignition interlock isn’t the only penalty for a DUI conviction in Virginia, of course. You might see jail time, and you’ll also be ordered to pay a fine and take part in an Alcohol Safety Action Program, or ASAP, which is a combination alcohol-education and probation program. Additional convictions increase the penalties.

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